Reflection 336: From my book

April 4, 2013

Copyright © 2013 by Steve Perrin.

Today I uploaded the 3rd corrected proof of my new book, On My Mind, some of which I’d like to share with you as a token of what I’ve been up to for these many months, years, and it seems like ages. These two reflections come from the last chapter.

Above all. Wherever on Earth we are born—East or West, North or South—we are born of woman, and born to the stars. We are Earth made flesh looking upon a vista of lights in the sky. From the outset we are of two natures, mortal and celestial. Our lower nature is hard to bear because so fraught with peril, temptation, and suffering. Our higher nature is stunning in its harmonious radiance and diversity. Our task in each case is to balance our two natures, not to revel exclusively in either one or the other. This creates a tension within us, a yearning for both familial warmth and heavenly illumination combined in one life.

Which is what both science and religion strive to inspire: a unity of nurture and illumination in passionate embrace—religion by building on the past, science by opening to the future. Is that too much to ask? Love and awe together in one vessel? But that is precisely what the life force drives us to seek at each instant. As Buddha sought to master sickness, old age, and death through personal discipline. As Moses sought to bind his people under one law. As Jesus sought to discover loving harmony in the face of human diversity. As Mohammed sought to unite the fervor of three hundred sects into one ardent system of belief. As scientists are struggling today to reconcile four fundamental forces within one flash of coherent illumination, a task that yet evades them. As we all strive to achieve in our individual rounds of engagement, balancing our situated selves with our virtual worlds at each moment, being wholly ourselves in a universe wholly other, promoting individual happiness and the general welfare at the same time.

Even as we know it is impossible to attain such a balance in any truly enduring sense, we also know we have no choice but to keep trying out of deference to our parents (genetic heritage) and the cosmic order that led to our birth.

After all. Yes, we are unique individuals, and at the same time, members of families, tribes, peoples, and a particular universe. I have emphasized the subjective nature of my mind because that, I feel, is the level of consciousness I am (and I imagine we all are) apt to pay least attention to, so least understand. In the end I must acknowledge that in addition to our being ourselves, we all belong to higher natural and cultural systems of organization. In each case, our belonging is every bit as important as being who we are as individuals. My self is composed of particular organs and organ systems. When my liver gets sick, I get sick. When my brain suffers a stroke, I get confused. When my organ systems fail, I die.

Beyond my embodied self, I belong to an extended family that includes my parents, siblings, several spouses and partners, my children, and other relatives. Beyond my family, I belong to a tribe made up of bands of more-or-less similar families which, taken together, constitute a people. And every people belongs to its planet, solar system, and universe. Between my selfhood and layers of membership, I find I am a congress of organic beings, most of whom I would not recognize if I met them face-to-face. From the point of view of a bacterium on my skin or in my gut, I am a universe it takes wholly for granted, even though at every second its wellbeing depends on my mortal jelly.

When I say my individual self is situated between my perceptual and behavioral capabilities, that is true as far as it goes. But I am also situated within a family, community, species, and universe, each level far more complicated than I can imagine, much less contemplate. Somewhere there is an asteroid of some size orbiting the sun, an asteroid fated to collide with my exact coordinates on the surface of the Earth. There are similar future impacts heading my way in the context of my family, tribe, people, and geophysical coordinates. My being and belonging are functions of a universe containing, in addition to my mind, a host of such dramatic features as shooting stars, auroral displays, blossoms, nursing babies, plate tectonics, epidemics, collisions, extinctions, and all the other greater or lesser wonders and catastrophes we are subject to.

In the end, there is far more to our being and belonging than we can possibly grasp. I offer these reflections as so many petals blowing on the wind. While they last, I can only enjoy their swirling dance. Once free of my mind, their fate is their own.

Now that our journey together is over, I am trying to introduce myself before we part to give you a snapshot of your companion through these several chapters. I am he whose autobiography unfolds within a certain set of drives and feelings between overlapping motor and perceptual capabilities within a distinct body embedded in a unique family and its culture on a planet whirling around a nearby star in a galactic neighborhood and its universe.

That’s me, the one who does his or her best to engage the layers collectively making up such a situation while I briefly have the chance. And as near as I can tell, that’s also you.

Voyage of a lifetime, it has been a great trip. I can only wish you well from here on.

Like you, I’m still here, still working. Keep in touch.

Y’r friend, –Steve from Planet Earth

 

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